Thursday, May 09, 2002

Rational Religious Bigotry: Don’t be Offended

Keep in mind the blogs are posted in reverse chronological order: This post was promised in an earlier blog below.

Religious leaders, particularly those of the Christian religious right, make inflammatory statements with annoying regularity. The inevitable outcome is outrage in the media and uniform condemnation (including from other like-minded but perhaps more circumspect Christian leaders) followed by a unsavory public mea culpa.

Here are a few you probably heard over the years:

  • God does not hear the prayers of Jews (or Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Masons, etc.)
  • The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult
  • The Roman Catholic Church is apostate
  • Women should not be pastors, or even elders or deacons. Furthermore they should be subject to their husbands.

There are more. These pop up regularly. Read now the teaser for this blog: I think all of these statements are true and defensible.

The point of what you are about to read, for those who are still with me, is that I hope to convince you that one can hold such positions without being anti-Semitic, bigoted against Roman Catholics, or indeed bigoted against anybody. To the charge of being intolerant, then the plea is guilty by necessity.

Furthermore, I will even propose what your response should be to such statements if you are a Jew, Mormon, etc. Hint: it is not the knee jerk response that one usually hears.

It is all quite simple. Evangelical Christians, almost by definition, have as their premise the inerrancy of the Bible. More liberal minded Christians are not regulated by such a belief. So when a conservative reads the requirements for being an elder, he finds that one such requirement is to be a man (1 Tim 3:1-12). He is stuck at that point. He may in fact believe that women would make fine pastors, but the text binds him to a contrary view. No wiggle room.

Conservatives say God is exactly as described in Bible. Liberals, just like their political counterparts do with the constitution, say that the Bible is an evolving document. Extreme liberals relegate the Bible to mere allegory. I take great comfort in the conservative position. If God is not as described in the Bible, then I don’t see why everyone assumes he is “nicer”. Maybe he is mean and capricious, or simply dead.

I am not trying to convince you of my position. The crux of the argument is that if you accept this premise: The axiom of Biblical inerrancy is acceptable in the sense that someone (maybe not you, but someone) may hold to it without forfeiting his rights to be a full member of society, if you merely accept that a reasonable person is entitled (and indeed might) hold such a position, then it follows logically that such a person, without malice aforethought, might rationally arrive at the bulleted conclusions.

Does God hear the prayers of Jews?

Due to time and space limitations, I will only discuss this particular bullet. There are verses in the New Testament that say access to the Father occurs only through the Son:

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6, NASB)


Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John, 2:23, NASB)

Ergo, some conservative Christians, conclude that God does not hear (or perhaps He doesn't listen to) the prayers of Jews or indeed any non-Christian. Given the verses above, How could we conclude otherwise? It doesn’t mean we don’t wish God was more “tolerant”, and perhaps we believe we would be much more inclusive, if we were God, but we aren’t-- and we don’t have the luxury of modifying God’s attributes or His holy word.

Now surely, and sadly, a flaming anti-Semite might make the same statement about Jewish prayer. Nevertheless, it is a logical fallacy to conclude that the statement implies an anti-Semitic viewpoint.

The most perplexing criticism to the conservative position is that we think “we are right” and “everybody else is wrong”. Of course we do. Otherwise we wouldn’t hold such a position. Religion is supposed to encapsulate absolute truth. Anything else is, at best, situational ethics, not religion. Surely Jews, Muslims, and all other proponents of all other religions also think that they are right.

Don’t be offended

if I say that God does not hear the prayers of Jews. The correct response: “I know why you say that, because of your belief in the New Testament, but I think you are wrong. Let’s have some coffee and talk about it.” That’s all. Recognize that to me it is not my private unsupportable opinion but rather, from my perspective, an inescapable conclusion from scripture.

Only Christians get in trouble for this. Nobody gives a hoot when the shoe is on the other foot. Because I think Mohammed was a false prophet any good Muslim would identify me as an infidel with less than desirable prospects for the hereafter. My response to said Muslim: “ I am not offended by your intolerance – I understand why you think that. Let’s have some coffee and talk about it (so I can tell you the good news about Jesus).”

I might be wrong

For my part, I am charged to study the Bible and do my best to interpret it properly (using other scripture as much as possible) and believe what is says without modifications or additions that support my own agenda. Given that, I must be prepared to be proven wrong and even welcome correction. However, I cannot disregard the passages that I don’t like.

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